One Investor’s Advice to Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Don’t Hide Your Accent
To serial entrepreneur Ido Leffler, starting a business is “like a drug.”
Leffler’s passion for entrepreneurship stems from his parents. Born in Israel, he and his family moved to Australia when he was a child. His father had built a successful property development company and the family had it all – the beautiful home, the comfortable lifestyle. But when Leffler was 12, Australia hit a major recession, and as the residential market collapsed, so did his father’s business. While they lost nearly everything and had to move into a tiny apartment, Leffler’s father refused to declare bankruptcy and vowed to pay back all his debtors. And he did. The experience fueled Leffler’s belief that running your own business can still be worth it despite the massive risks that come along with it.
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but that was a great lesson on how to always be ready,” he says. “It’s essential to build your business under the premise that things can go wrong.”
Leffler also has extensive experience on the other side of the table, namely determining whether emerging startups are worthy of investment dollars. In addition to being an advisor to Birchbox and Levo, among others, Leffler is an active investor in the consumer tech space.
And now, thanks to his role as an angel investor in the new Oxygen Channel show Quit Your Day Job, which premiered on March 30, he can add “reality TV star” to his resume.
At a panel in New York City, Fortune asked him to share some tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.
This Q&A has been edited for grammar and clarity.
You’re a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. What are the three things you look for in an entrepreneur?
Leffler: Everything we do is based on three key pillars – incredible people, kick ass product and awesome cause. We look for someone who truly cares about what they’re doing and someone we believe can drive the business. The product they’re creating must be something more than what you can find in the marketplace. It must be truly differentiated from what’s out there. And there must be an awesome cause – we really want founders who can engage from Day 1 in something that can be really meaningful for the community.
What are some really big mistakes you see first-time entrepreneurs making?
Leffler: First-time entrepreneurs, more often than not, are not focusing on the bottom line. At the end of the day, your business needs to get to a point where it can fund itself. You just can’t expect investors to continuously pour money into it. The other mistake we see entrepreneurs making is creating big, flashy offices. When we set up our office, we literally built our own Ikea furniture. Our first office was a converted mechanic’s workshop. That’s what you want to see. You want to see people taking every cent you give them and treating it like it’s the last cent they’re going to get.
What is your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs – in particular, immigrant entrepreneurs?
Leffler: As a foreigner [born in Israel, Leffler moved with his family to Australia as a child], you see this country as the land of opportunity more than anybody else. I remember landing here thinking, “Oh my God, if I can just get Los Angeles to love my product, that’s more than the entire country where I grew up.”
I personally believe that my accent has helped me in business. It makes you different, and it makes you stand out. So many people try to mask their accent. I think you should be yourself, be articulate and be very observant of the cultures around you. I encourage you to let your accent shine, and it will make you stand out from anyone who’s here in this country.